The digital DNA of Generation Z

A lot has already been written about millennials and their shopping behaviours but these shoppers are now grown up and are already in the workplace, so what will the next generation of shoppers look like and want from our nation of instore and online shopkeepers? It’s time we listened to the needs and wants of this cohort of shoppers we call Generation Z.

They know they matter

Defined as those aged 15-24 years old, these shoppers are a fascinating bunch to observe. Growing up in a truly connected world, they’re starting to access the kind of money that means they can flex their spending power. Gone are the old stereotypes of sulky, uncommunicative Kevin-The-Teenager characters and in their place we find a captivating cohort, complex and cynical, confident and communicative and surprisingly worldly. They can be a difficult bunch to market to, yet market to them we must because these are the high spenders of the future.

Some things don’t change of course. Gen Z are still easily bored – so capturing and holding their interest for any length of time can be a challenge and they can still be self-centred – so attempts to gain their custom must pass the ‘what’s in it for me’ test. But the most striking thing about this new generation is their confidence. They have a great support system provided by social media which helps them to manage risk when they’re choosing what to do and what to buy – and they are more likely than older shoppers to be connecting beyond their social groups of family and friends or even like-minded groups, to retailers or brands. They also actually enjoy shopping! eCommerce provides them with a welcome distraction: 62% of Gen Z agree that online shopping is ”a great way to stop getting bored” – vs 53% older shoppers – and 70% of Gen Z shoppers agree that they “often browse online with no intention of buying vs 63% of older shoppers.

Of course, social media isn’t just about communication, it’s also about inspiration. For those looking for direction, social media delivers continual access to ideas and stimulation and Gen Z is a generation that has grown up in a world crammed with stimulus: they flick between multiple screens, constantly have their smartphone to hand, or keep their earphone in place to get an ever present sound track for life. It’s critical then to recognise social media as a powerful means of validating choices and building shopper confidence, whether through peer to peer recommendation or other forms of advocacy. This is a generation that doesn’t need to buy blind. They may be impulsive at times but they don’t need to take uncalculated risks – they have too much information at their finger-tips!

This socially savvy generation are also empowered by knowing that we’re all interested in them! In our research fewer than one in five of Gen Z felt that retailers don’t think their age group is important, compared with nearly a third of the general shopping population. And half of them believe that retailers and brands understand their age group, compared with just a third of the rest of us. This demonstrates a recognition of their attractiveness as a prime target for retailers and brands, worth getting to know – in stark contrast to how many older shoppers feel. This apparent self-assurance is important because it will set a high bar against which retailers and brands will be judged.

Growing up online

Those of us with Gen Z children know how screen focused they are and they’re very comfortable with online shopping. Our research showed that they don’t worry about payment security the way older shoppers do and also have no problem buying more items than they want, and returning what they don’t want. And they seem quite satisfied that online shopping doesn’t need to be made any easier or quicker. As a group they are more impulsive and willing to take risks with an order, knowing they can easily send anything back that they don’t like: 44% Gen Z agree “I often buy things on the internet I hadn’t planned to buy" vs 32% older shoppers and 28% Gen Z agree: “I buy lots of things online knowing I’m going to send most back" vs 10% older shoppers.

Of course this is great for securing sales online. But getting a product in the basket is only half the story for the Gen Z shopper who is so comfortable with online returns. Speedy fulfilment of the order and products that don’t disappoint on arrival are also crucial to ensure that items don’t end up back where they started. This is a generation used to instant gratification – so speedy delivery is more important to them than to older shoppers.  A click for them needs to be swiftly followed by a parcel at the door, or the moment may well have passed. 

Written for Essential Retail by founder of Shoppercentric, Danielle Pinnington.